I don't usually send emails to strangers, but I have known for at least the past month that I needed to send you an email….
….so you understand I'm not some crazy person (well, not completely crazy) I'm a 39 year old mom to two boys ages 9 and 10. Without going into details this has been the hardest emotional year of my life. I would define myself as healing right now, but I have had some dark moments. In the midst of this I found your blog. It has been so joyful for me to see you adopt two more children into your home. As the daughter of an interracial couple I love the fact you have created an interracial family….I love seeing your two daughters adjusting to life in their new family, and my heart is literally filled with joy that these girls have the blessing of being part of your family and in our country...
…as you can probably guess, this year has also called me to trying to figure out my own spirituality. I was raised catholic, but haven't been practicing in the last two years. I have known throughout this year that I NEEDED to find a way to get closer to God, and that my children also needed to know His love. That said - I was scared. Scared to find another church. Scared that the only reason I was trying to find him was because I was in emotional turmoil. It feels almost dishonest – “Hey God, I'm here now, but only because I am a hot mess.”
My point (yes, I really do have one) is that the other thing you have done for me is shown me, through your faith, that this is something that is okay for me to do. To work on this aspect of my life - no matter what the catalyst is, because I NEED it.
So, thank you. I will continue to read your blog, and know that your story has impacted someone you probably never intended for it to impact. I wish you and your family well.
‘Diana’ (named changed for privacy)
After reading your email the Lord put it on my heart to send you this little daily devotional, ‘Jesus Calling’. The author writes as if Jesus were speaking to you face to face. The imagery and conversational style speak to my heart in a piercing way that literally seems to lift the burdens off my shoulders. This book has taught me how to practically rely on the Lord, and has completely changed the way I think about trials, hardships, and outcomes. I love to read each day’s segment and then look up the verses that the author wrote off of which she puts at the bottom of each page. These writings have given me such a fresh perspective on how I understand scripture. I hope this book is a blessing to you, and that it speaks to you with just the right words, at just the right time. God is known to do that! :)
I also wanted to share some truths with you about a part of your email. You had mentioned this: ….scared that the only reason I was trying to find Him was because I was in emotional turmoil. It feels almost dishonest - Hey God, I'm here now, but only because I am a hot mess.
Oh please let me tell you that this is THE MOST HONEST position that your heart can be in! In your brokenness the devil is trying to smother you in guilt and shame over your past decisions, failures, broken roads, or whatever the case may be. You need to hear the truth found in James 4:6-10 ~
6God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
A couple of things. First, the key to ‘get closer to God’ is to humble yourself before Him. And from the sound of your note, that is the exact place you are in right now! It feels ugly and painful and raw, but rejoice that you’ve come to this place!!!! You are admitting to God that you can’t do this on your own! That each time you’ve tried to go your own way, you’ve failed and made a hot mess of things. Humbling yourself before the Lord means recognizing that you need His power, His guidance, His favor in your life. That by your independent, prideful effort you come up short and empty. God cannot work in a prideful heart that stiff-arms Him. Rather the brokenness and dark, questioning moments that you have had are the stomping grounds where God’s work begins. The devil also knows this, which is why he is whispering to you to fight it and making you feel like a liar. Really he is the liar and the deceiver (John 8:44). Which is why it is so important to guard your mind and your heart with truth – God’s word – the Bible. Commit yourself to reading, studying, and understanding scripture. This is your defense against Satan, and it is also your offense in coming near to God. One aspect of this is finding a church – one that teaches straight out of the Bible – to help you to glean understanding from scripture. You need to hear, receive, and renew your mind with God’s truth. This will change the way you think, and eventually it will change the way you live. It all starts with learning the hope of God’s promises, finding out about His character, and receiving daily reminders not to put your trust or hope or faith in the things of this world or the people of this world. You will find that once you do this whole-heartedly AKA ‘all in’, the Lord will reward you by giving you additional information about Himself (Hebrews 11:6). It’s just the coolest thing, and it’s how your relationship with Him will mature.
I always found verse 9 interesting. Why would God tell us to grieve, mourn, cry, and be gloomy? I’ve come to learn that in these verses He’s speaking to those who have hit bottom. Those who have thrown up their hands in defeat and are facing surrender. God is saying to grieve over the ugliness of our sin. The way we lived without Him, the choices we made without Him when we aligned ourselves with the world and its value system (read James 4:4). Our sinful past should sicken us to the point that we are so sorry for the mess we’ve made. We want to change. We are ready to change. Ready to submit/surrender to God and to do things His way.
And to speak on purifying our hearts (verse 8), some notes I have explain it this way: ‘In the process of refining metals, the raw metal is heated with fire until it melts. The impurities separate from it and rise to the surface. They are then skimmed off, leaving the pure metal. Without this heating and melting, there could be no purifying.’ Well, it’s the same way with our hearts – spiritually speaking. God has to expose and root out all the ugly (impurities = deliberate sin) to make way for Him to work in our hearts. Often He does ‘give us over’ to our sin and empty choices because He knows that when we go our own way, we will eventually see that it doesn’t work out so well. This is some of the emotional turmoil that you are feeling and have felt. All the junk is rising to the surface, and you find yourself, well, in a hot melted mess! From here, it is our choice as to whether we will turn to God (repent) or not. You are so choosing the right path!
With all this, I am trying to say that scripture shows that you are really in the perfect place to begin a whole-hearted pursuit of the Lord. You’ve clearly already come to that conclusion, but I just wanted to encourage you that you don’t have to clean up your act before coming near to God. You don’t have to comb your hair and straighten up your dress in order to receive His love. He’d rather you come to him a mess, and allow Him to do the work of setting you on your feet, and giving you a firm place to stand. It’s so hard to fathom – that His love is UNCONDITIONAL. No matter what we do, or what we’ve done, He lavishes us with His love and forgiveness. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. It’s so unheard of. We’ve never known a love like this. But then, God goes further. He imparts to us Jesus’ clean record. Jesus’ blood speaks on our behalf. “Once God’s enemy, now His beloved child.” All our junk and records of sin…..gone…..in a precious moment on the cross. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). And in that same precious moment on the cross, the WORK of salvation is done. Finished. Nothing further is needed from us except a humble, receptive, open heart, ready to embrace this undeserved GRACE. One hand stretched out on the cross to the other….that is our definition of love. A love that we’ve never known, but so need. Who would not want to live, pursue, and commune with a loving Father who has done this all for us? Your heart is ready to know God – no more going through the motions! You go girl!
It was a few months until I heard from Diana again, and her next email blew me away. God had begun to reveal His love for her, in very intimate, personal, and timely ways. To understand the depth of this next dialogue, you will need to know this detail about Diana’s situation: After 43 years of marriage, her father had been found to be having an extra-marital affair on her mother. Diana’s family was completely blindsided by this hidden affair. She had since been walking through layers of hurt, grief, and that ugly feeling of being deceived. But just wait and see how God spoke His love into her life! More excerpts from Diana…
…words cannot convey the evil that has come into my family. My father is no longer the moral, loving, and Christian man that I have always known him to be. He no longer goes to church. He lies without remorse. He has treated my mother, and his children, as though we were disposable.
On my part, I couldn’t physically work for my father after all of this came out. I hung in until April, 2012 when my husband looked at me one day and said no amount of money is worth the pain this is causing you, and we will just have to find a way to get through this financially without you working for your father. I was always SO CLOSE to my dad, talked and worked with him daily, and suddenly I was without a father. Throughout it all I have struggled, as you know, with my faith. I have struggled with still being a good mother to my children while my entire world has crumbled down. The hardest part of all of this, by far, is that this has DEVASTATED my mother. The toughest woman I have ever known, the woman who has always put her children and grandchildren ahead of herself, was completely wiped out by this. She is in so much pain that it makes me sick…
….the night before I got your gift I was lying in bed and heard the words “Psalm 68”. Um, okay, I think to myself. Not one to have actually studied the Bible before, I didn’t have a clue what was in Psalm 68. But I heard the words and figured I’d look at it in the morning. Which I did. And became breathless when I read: “A father of the fatherless”. An hour later I got my mail, and received “Jesus Calling” from you. This was on a Monday. That Saturday we left for a cruise in the Caribbean. After all the pain and suffering we had all endured as a family, my mom decided to take the family on the cruise. I had started using the daily devotionals in Jesus Calling the night that I received the book, but the timing of this vacation could not have worked out better.
Each night I would sit out on the balcony and read the devotional. The second night, as I was praying with God and focusing on how I could repair my relationship with Him, I could hear the following:
“I am right here with you. I’ve been here the entire time. I haven’t left or forsaken you, and I won’t ever. My love for you is everlasting.”
As I sit here typing my hands are shaking at the remembrance of that moment. I began to cry. I could feel His love. I could feel calm. I felt loved and cared for. After months of feeling abandoned by my biological father, months of feeling like I had to be the one to keep it together, to be strong for my Mom, my sisters, my brother and my children, I felt like I could just be weak. Be weak, yet cradled in love. It was a beautiful moment for me. This feeling has continued ever since. Each night I would sit on the balcony, in such a place of physical stillness and warmth, with the Caribbean air – not too hot, nor cool, with minimal noise, just the light of the stars reflecting off of the waves, and I would read that days devotional and pray. I continued to hear Him – "I’ve been here the whole time. I am here for you now." Over and over, each night.
This knowledge that I was loved changed everything for me. When I look back on that week, it was one of healing. My frame of reference had changed. I just felt calm. I loved every moment of being with my siblings, whom I don’t get to see as a group nearly often enough. I loved being with my boys and my husband. I loved watching my mom jetski, and go ziplining, and just LIVING again. We were away from all the distractions, all the hate and anger and hurt and we just enjoyed ourselves to an extent I wouldn’t have thought possible given the turmoil of the past year. For me though, this ability to just let go stemmed from the knowledge of His love. Of knowing that He hadn’t abandoned me. That He welcomed me into His loving arms.
After the trip my brother sent me an email. He told me that he knew I had taken a lot of the emotional burden of caring for Mom during the year, but that he was so happy to see me being silly and laughing like I had before all of this. Since returning home I won’t say that every day is perfect, and that I don’t still have “down” moments, but I have to say they are so quickly resolved because I know I am loved by Him. I have been able to change my perspective on my father. Instead of being angry with him, I feel badly for him and pray for him daily. Rather than focusing on all the hurt he has caused, I think about how lost he is, and I ask God to help him find his way back to Him. While the loss of our relationship will always sadden me, it no longer hurts me as it did before. I have literally given it to God. I cannot control my dad’s actions. I cannot control his mistakes. All I can do is pray for him, and continue to allow God to help me heal. In doing so I am a better wife, mother, sister, and daughter. This new knowledge has permeated its way into other areas of my life. There were aspects of being a CPA that I liked, but I never had any great passion for my job. I have always been jealous of people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives, when I never had any real career passion. The only thing I knew I wanted was to be a Mom. I cannot tell you how much this has bothered me throughout my life.
Now, because of what’s happened, I found myself able to walk away from being a CPA (I always had a lot of pressure from my father to pursue that field). An opportunity to work on financial planning came to me last month. Suddenly it was the perfect marriage of what I liked about being a CPA (working with clients, getting to know them) and actually being able to help them financially. I thought to myself ‘now why didn’t I think of this earlier’. God’s response: if you had discovered that career path earlier you never would have stayed home with your children and fulfilled your real passion with them. If I’d presented you with a career you were passionate about when they were 2 and 3, who would have mothered them? I didn’t want to give you that temptation. They are ready now, and you are ready now.
I think back to the man I was engaged to in my early 20’s who cheated on me. I realize that all of that pain and suffering has allowed me to be empathetic to my mother in her situation (although obviously hers is far, far worse). I look at every “negative” experience now in my life and can generally see now why I had to endure it. In other words, I trust in Him. I know that everything I am enduring will somehow, somewhere, benefit either myself or allow me to help someone else. I know that He isn’t going to leave me no matter what. I know that when I am in pain I need to hand my troubles to Him.
Clearly this is going to be a process for me for the rest of my life. I am trying a new church that will hopefully allow me to continue to develop and grow my relationship with Him. I am working on developing my children’s relationship with Jesus. Your gift helped me start on the journey. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for taking the time to listen to Him when he asked you to send me “Jesus Calling”.
WOW, eh?! I’ll end this post with this thought: What a living, breathing example Diana’s situation is of Romans 8:28 ~ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
My Bible ‘life application notes’ explain: God works in “all things” – not just isolated incidents – for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn every circumstance around for our long-range good. Note that God is not working to make us happy, but to fulfill His purpose. Note also that this promise is not for everybody. It can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Those who are “called” are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective, a new mind-set on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures; they look for their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution because God is with them.